Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Aristocratic Caste (Part 3)

The Unlanded Gentry

The large majority of the Aristocratic Caste are the so-called Unlanded Gentry - those who may claim noble descent through one or more of their parents, but who do not hold any land in their own right. Player characters of the Aristocratic Caste are always assumed to have this status, and may start the game as either a GentlemanNoble 2 ], a BastardNoble 1 ], or a Gentleman FarmerNoble 1 or Commoner 2 ] (their choice). They also have no direct prospects of inheriting a title (that is, advancing within the caste).

Being an aristocrat is expensive if you don't have the lands (represented by the appropriate Noble Asset) to support your status. Since the caste frowns on its members receiving any income that is not actually derived from rents or investments this leaves the would-be aristocrat four choices:

  1. The may seek employment in the court of a titled noble or baron as a courtier. The number of courtiers that a court can support depends on it's wealth. Positions include the Herald (responsible for running the court), a Butler (responsible for maintaining the household), Guard and Troop Captains (to lead the troops), a Sheriff (who ensures that law and order are maintained in the domain), a Spymaster (who insures that the intrigues of nearby courts are maintained), a Reeve (who collects the income from the domain and deals with the commoners living in the domain), Companions for dependants of the court (such as the Lady in Waiting) and - perhaps most importantly - the Household Knights (Thanes, Warriors, etc) that provide the court's military might. Particularly wealthy courts might have a number of other important Court positions - for example Court Sorceror, Court Apothecary, Court Physician, Chaplain/Confessor, and even Court Perfumer (although most of these positions are not generally suitable for unskilled Aristocrats). Baronial courts often combine positions (for example the Household Knights will generally also act as Butler, Captains, and Sheriff). The ability to obtain a position at a court generally relies on their father's ability to influence the titled noble who runs the court. Court positions are very rare though, and the competition for them is very intense.
  2. They may seek a position in a hierarchy that is normally reserved for members of the Military or Religious Castes - such as a position in the Army or Navy or in the Clergy. The members of the Aristocratic Caste have the basic skills to be able to act in these roles, provided that the roles are not tested. However because they lack the actual Expertise of actual members of the Caste, all actual tests are automatically Difficult (using a d30 instead of a d20). Again the Influence of the father on the appropriate authority will determine if the position is available, but in many cases it is often possible to purchase the appropriate position (for example buying a commission in the army).
  3. They may become Adventurers and seek their own fortune and rise (or more likely fall) on their own merits. The ambition of most aristocratic adventurers is to eventually convince an Overlord to gift or grant them a title and domain for services rendered. In a Terra Nullius (or frontier or colonial) game, they may seek to establish their own domain in the unoccupied "wilderness," either in their own right, or for incorporation in an established sovereign domain. They ahve the advantage over other adventurers in this respect because they have the skills to both run a court of their own, and to conduct diplomacy with other courts.
  4. They may take up a trade or do something equally disreputable. This generally formally removes them from the aristocratic caste, but does not dissolve the familial links. For example, a lesser son or daughter might become a merchant funded by their family (and returning profits back to the family), without staining the family name with undertaking base commerce. Alternatively some cultures have craft skills that are not considered utterly improper for members of the aristocratic caste to perform. For example, swordsmithing.

In most cases the children of members of the Aristocratic Caste who do not actively hold a Noble Asset (and the associated title and lands) are not considered tpo be members of the Aristocratic Caste, but are rather members of the Caste that their father is operating in at the time of their birth.

A Quick Note on Knights

Knights are really the default members of the Military Caste in a feudal society. The entire feudal structure is designed to support the armed and armoured knight (as well as provide extra troops), especially in a culture where the transport of food is difficult. This military force can be called up by the knight's lord to serve (usually for set period of time), in return for the land that the knight holds from their lord.

This means that while the Birth Caste of a feudal knight (or equivalent warrior) is actually the Military Caste, they are often given Noble Assets (a Manor, Keep, or even a Castle) and thus become a Manorial Knight, or a position in the court of a higher noble or baron as a Household Knight, which promotes them to the Aristocratic Caste.

But knights can also be Mercenary Knights (effectively guildsmen), military officers (most belted knights rate as a Captain at the very least), or even Knight Errants (an adventurer knight with no visible means of support). In all these cases the living expenses of the knight are considered normal for members of the Military Caste (at 6 sp a month per level), but the horse adds another 6 sp to the monthly living expenses. If the living expenses of an independent knight are less than 48 sp a month though (the equivalent of a Manorial Knight) the knight is considered a poor (with an increased chance of both himself and his horse falling ill during winter).

Living Expenses for Unlanded Gentry

The living expenses for unlanded gentry depend entirely upon how regularly they attend court (usually the court of their lord).

Provincial Gentleman [ Noble 1 ]

A provincial gentleman never attends formal court (or only in the most dire circumstances when summoned there). In many cases they are considered little more than country squires (with a manor without fief) or gentleman farmers (with a large farm that is prosperous enough to support a wealthier lifestyle. They are often members of the Aristocratic Caste mainly because of an old grant (they actually hold explicit title to the land that supports them [as is the case with any noble]), and they can trace their bloodlines back to a royal or noble family, and they actively preserve their aristocratic heritage.

Note that they must be granted the land they occupy. If they simply own it (as an allod, freehold or similar property) then they are simply a very rich YeomanCommoner 2 ]. In fact they actually have a higher Social Status as commoners because their Social Status of 2 outranks the Social Status of 1 they gain from their aristocratic connections.

Historical examples include petit-sergeants and ji-zamurai.

Provincial Gentleman [ Noble 1 ]
Social Status:1
Monthly Expenses:12 sp ( 1 gp)
Supporting Assets:The grant of a Large Farm or a Manor Farm
Customary Titles:None.


Gentleman [ Noble 2 ]

The vast majority of the members of the Aristocratic Caste are considered to be Gentlemen [Noble 2]. These are generally the children of titled nobles or landed gentry. Many of them are the cousins of titled nobles, and their children are destined to lose their status as members of the Aristocratic Caste unless they achieve a position at court or obtain the grant or gift of a title.

Given the expense in maintaining a aristocratic lifestyle with no offsetting Asset, most gentlemen will seek a position normally associated with another caste, or become adventurers (this is the reason for both the general social acceptability for adventurers and for why one of the smallest and most exclusive castes in society produces an equal number of adventurers as each of the other castes).

Gentlemen are expected to be able to appear at court, but are not an actual part of the court.

Gentleman [ Noble 2 ]
Social Status:2
Monthly Expenses:24 sp ( 2 gp)
Supporting Assets:None (or a Lesser Position at Court)
Customary Titles:Milord (Milady)
[In a formal situation "The Honourable XXX" may also be used.]


Courtier [ Noble 3 ]

A courtier is someone that is part of the court of a higher noble. They may be simply attending court (in which case the Monthly Expenses represents the necessary bribes and gifts to remain at court - in addition to the necessary wardrobe to avoid disgracing oneself), or more likely hold a formal position in the court of the higher noble (which is considered a supporting Asset for this status). Actual paying directly for the hospitality of the court is considered poor form. To remain at a court requires a continuing friendly reaction from the lord of the court.

The number of positions available at a court depend on the wealth of the noble whose court it is. The richer the court, the greater number of positions (and the more intense the competition for them. Poor courts may even use non-aristocrats in these positions. Some common positions include:

  • Heir: The heir to a grant is considered to be a courtier in their father's court. The "spare" is also considered to hold a position in the court, but only as a Gentleman [ Noble 2 ]].
  • Household Knight: The most common position in court in a feudal society is that of a household knight (or warrior or thane or samurai). This is because the fundamental purpose of the feudal system is to provide a supply of troops, and knights are the elite troops. Many noble gifts or grants will specify that the holder must supply a certain number of knights (and other troops) to their overlord as a condition of holding that gift or grant. Note that these knights will often serve as the other officers of the court (especially where the holding is too small to hold a formal court).
  • Herald: A herald is required to hold a formal court (and as such is a position normally provided by the richer barons and titled nobles). They handle the administrivia of court events, establishing precedence and conducting the court. They are also responsible for conducting tourneys and similar events. They are also used as diplomats between courts, and traditionally carry diplomatic immunity.
  • Butler: The butler is responsible for running the household of the noble. In particular with ensuring that the household staff is performing appropriately and that the holding is properly supplied. Given that most aristocratic holdings function as a military outpost in a feudal society, this is a very important position. It was only demoted to being a service position (and being part of the Peasant Caste) when the status of military outpost was lost.
  • Sheriff: One of the important duties of an aristocratic court is to decide on legal matters within the court's jurisdiction. The enforcement of these decisions within the domain is the responsibility of the sheriff (aided by bailiffs).
  • Steward: A steward is responsible for managing a holding, freeing it's lord for other duties. A steward cannot be placed in charge of a vassal's holding, only the lords own holding.
  • Reeve: The reeve is the court's treasurer and is responsible for collecting the fees, taxes and tithes due to the noble. Unlike a steward, a reeve is also responsible for inspecting and ensuring that vassals are fulfilling their obligations.
  • Spymaster: The Courtesy Expertise can also be used for intrigue. A spymaster dedicates themselves to finding out what is happening in and around the noble's court. Often considered a vital position at court (although mostly one that is hidden).
  • Court <Guildsman>: The richer courts may have a number of positions available to guildsmen who perform exclusively for the court. Examples include the Court Sorceror, Court Physician, Court Scribe, Court Perfumer, Court Astrologer, etc. As far as the guild itself is concerned, obtaining a position at Court is the same as having a Shop - it allows the character to claim Master status, even as a Journeyman. Adding the Shop Asset directly to the court adds 1d100 percent to the income of the Shop to the income of the noble's central holding each month (assume 50% generally). This is distinct to adding a guildsman's shop to the holding itself, which adds the full value of the Shop tothe income of the holding, but requires that the holding meet certain important conditions first.
  • Chaplain/Confessor: This is the individual responsible for the Lord's spiritual matters. The most common way of adding a Chaplain to the court is to add a Chapel or Major Shrine to the court. The Religious Bonus gained from the Chapel is then applied to the general activities of the court (this represents the court observing all the required rituals and ceremonial observances to avoid bringing down the disfavour of the gods, rather than any overt magical acts blessing the court. Courts without a confessor are forced to rely on the religious Assets attached directly to the holding.
  • Companion: These include the numerous noble companions that may inhabit the court. Whilst senior companions (such as the Lady Companion of the lord's spouse) are supported as Courtiers, the lesser companions (such as Ladies-in-Waiting) are supported as Gentlemen. Royalty children often have aristocratic companions when growing up. These often form the core retinue of the adult noble.
  • Retinue: A court will often feature many courtiers simply because the bigger the court the more impressive the noble must be. However the Asset can normally only support a limited number of these hangers-on, and mostly at the Gentleman status.
  • Pages: Older children of the Aristocratic Caste often serve directly at court as pages. Whilst doing so they are considered to be first level (apprentice) nobles in their own right.

In many cases these positions are best filled by members of other castes. In most cases non-aristocrats occupying a formal position at court are supported as if they are gentlemen (rather than courtiers). In many cases, this is still a much higher standard of living than they normally get. For example, a Court Physician would only have a standard of living worth 18 sp as a Master not attached to the court. They also have the advantage that there is no possibility of their "business" failing whilst they are supported by a court.

Courtier [ Noble 3 ]
Social Status:3
Monthly Expenses:36 sp ( 3 gp)
Supporting Assets:A Position at Court
Customary Titles:Milord (Milady)
[or if a Household Knight "Sir XXX"]
[In a formal situation "The Right Honourable XXX" may also be used, particularly for an untitled Heir, a Monarch's Counsellor, or a Parliamentarian.]


Special Circumstances

The following special circumstances can apply to membership of the Aristocratic Caste.

Bastard [ Noble 1 ]

The acknowledged bastard child of a titled noble can be considered to have the status of a Provincial Gentleman because they will never be expected to be presented at formal court. If they are to be presented at their father's court (or the court of their father's overlord) then they can be treated as GentlemenNoble 2 ], or, if given a formal position in the court, as a Courtier  [Noble 3 ]. Getting a bastard acknowledged usually requires that the father Influences the appropriate court. If it is the father's own court this is, of course, automatic.

That said, bastardry has several effects:

  1. Bastardry reduces their Social Status derived from the Aristocratic Caste by 1 (to a minimum of 1). This is often formally established by adding the bar sinister to the heraldry of the character. Blood is everything to the Aristocratic Caste (since it is the main reason their elite status in society is preserved).
  2. The child, even if acknowledged, cannot inherit their father's title if it is a grant. The only way to counteract this is to get the father's overlord to approve the bastard as the legitimate heir to the title. This is very difficult to accomplish. Firstly, because in doing so you are effectively disinheriting the current heir (which may be a distant cousin from a collateral family line), and they can challenge this decision in higher courts (which will generally favour tradition). Secondly, if there are no legitimate heirs to a grant, then tradition has it escheats to the overlord (so there is a considerable economic disincentive for the overlord to rule in favour of a bastard becoming the legitimate heir).
  3. It is generally assumed that the bastard is raised in the mother's caste (this is automatic in the case of an unacknowledged bastard). This means that they will have the Birth Caste of there mother, and thus gain the appropriate attribute bonus and Expertises of that caste, rather than those of the Aristocratic Caste.

In many cases, rather than acknowledging the bastardry officially, the father will simply use their Influence and/or wealth, to provide a higher status in another hierarchy for the mother and child. For example, they may provide mother with a freehold farm (and husband farmer), with the expectation that the bastard child will inherit.

Even if utterly unacknowledged, the father of a noble bastard is usually an open secret amongst the peasantry thanks to their Folklore Expertise. Even if the child is a Serf [Commoner 1] or Employee [Commoner 1] (which are the most likely statuses for the mother), the fact that everyone knows they actually have noble blood means they can claim [Noble 1] status amongst their peers and thus effectively socially outrank them.

Note that bastardry will have different consequences outside the Aristocratic Caste that are generally not worthy of note as far as actual game mechanics are concerned.

Bastard [ Noble 1 ]
Social Status:1
Monthly Expenses:6 sp (or higher)
Supporting Assets:None (or a noble father).
Customary Titles:None.


And a Quick Note on the Patriarchy

This post is written very much from the assumptions of the Patriarchy (that the man is the Lord of the Manor and that his spouse is his Wife). This is a natural consequence of invoking historical examples when creating the system. There were many reasons for the history being heavily patriarchal (for instance the incredible danger posed by childbirth without competent medical assistance was one, although the major reason was the fetishisation of blood and being able to "prove" patriachal descent by blood for legal reasons (since property could technically only be inherited by an heir of the body/blood).

However this is in no way saying that a fantasy game setting has to stick to established historical stereotypes. There is no reason to say that the the cultural setting may be a purposeful matriarchy (especially if it is common knowledge that men are too violent of foolish to hold society together) or one of equality. For example I particularly enjoy the idea behind the default setting of Greg Stolze's Reign - where a firm belief that riding a horse causes sterility means that all cavalry is female or eunuchs - raises the status of the woman so they can be nobles and troop commanders in their own right. In my own game becoming an Adventurer is a formal denial of societal expectations, so whilst the society tends to be patriarchal in the main, there is an easy and socially acceptable escape for women that wish to pursue their own path and make their own way in society. Which raises the status of women considerably, even if they don't choose to become an adventurer. It would be considered quite acceptable for a female adventurer to be granted title to a barony and be considered a Baron. It might also be dejure that that barony might descend through matrilineal lines as a result of the initial grant.

This does not even consider cultures where inheritance doesn't follow strict descent (this is actually quite common, especially in societies where the household possessions are held by the wife while the man only owns the tools of his trade - such as weapons and armour). In many cases a cousin of the wife will inherit instead of a son. Then there are legal complications, such as morgantic marriages (where the spouse is too low in status for their children to inherit), or the medieval Western European tradition that a widow can only gain control of their estates on the death of the third husband). All far too complicated (and interesting) to go into detail in a "simple" set of generic rules.

However I will continue to use the male form of title for generaly discussing the nobility. The reason for doing so is the patriarchal assumptions built into the title when rendered in English. "Gentleman" conjures quite a different image than "gentlewoman," for example, and it is the image of the first I wish to emphasise. Then again in three of my house games (I do like playing in different settings) the title equivalent for "gentleman" is officially gender neutral, and it is quite common to call a female bravo a "gentleman" (in fact in some games calling a female bravo a gentlewoman could be taken as an insult to their martial abilities).

Just to make things clear as mud. <grin>

[ The next part will deal with the Landed Gentry (Nobles of level 4 to 6). ]

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